By Hailey Hensley
Rape and sexual assault are ever-present problems in today’s society. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) every 73 seconds an American is assaulted. One such rape survivor also happens to be a faculty member at Rider.
Allison Weidhaas is an associate professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism and also serves as the director of the master’s of arts in business communication and health communication. Weidhaas has been at Rider since 2013.
On Nov. 12, Weidhaas held a talk entitled “I Came Forward” where she discussed a horrific experience she endured in the early 2000s, as well as who she has become since then and precautions other people should take.
Weidhaas opened her talk by discussing the thing she feels defines her the most — her family.
“I am a wife, my husband is actually in the audience today. I’m a mom,” said Weidhaas.
She smiled in a way that lit up her whole face as she described the circumstances of a photo of her children she flashed on the screen behind her.
However, the talk soon took a turn to a much darker subject matter as Weidhaas began to tell the story of a date she went on in 2003.
“Online dating was a fairly new thing in 2002… but I decided I was going to try it. I joined one of the most popular dating sites at the time, Match.com,” she said. “I went on a few dates and it was nothing special, I didn’t see them again. Then around the end of 2002, I started exchanging messages with a man who’s screen-name was Dr. Jeff.”
Weidhaas then explained that he told her he was a doctor in a local emergency room (ER) and that he was interested in meeting a career-driven woman. Weidhaas does not recall who messaged who first on the dating site.
Weidhaas and the man exchanged many messages and had several long phone conversations. Weidhaas said he seemed “attractive” and “like a reasonable person” on the phone.
According to Weidhaas, in January of 2003 “Dr. Jeff” suggested they meet in person. He recommended they meet at a brew-pub in center-city Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after work on a weeknight.
So, they did just that. Weidhaas drove into Philadelphia after work, fully intending to drive home that evening as she had work the following day.
“That [driving home] wasn’t what happened that evening. I had a drink. We ordered a sampling of different beers… and then I ordered a pint. I made one mistake that evening, and I hope that you can learn from it,” she said. “I had to go to the bathroom, and I left my drink on the table. He seemed like a nice guy, we were at an upscale pub. I went to the bathroom and I came back and I never thought twice about it because I trusted that person at the time.”
She then described feeling “weird” as the night progressed. She said she felt “quite unlike herself.”
“I am typically a very articulate person, but I had a really hard time putting words together and an even more difficult time understanding what he was saying to me.”
Weidhaas says the man told her she had probably had too much to drink and began to speak to her in medical jargon she had a hard time understanding while she was feeling so “off.”
The man then suggested they return to his home, and with Weidhaas not feeling like herself, she went with him.
“Looking back, I can remember weaving back and forth as we walked out of the bar. Nobody thought twice about this. He lived in an upscale apartment. We had to walk past a doorman who checked us in. Sometimes I wonder why no one asked what was wrong with me,” she said.
Weidhaas then described fleeting, fuzzy memories of his apartment and view of the Philadelphia skyline. She explained that as the night progressed, it became harder to remember, despite not consuming any more alcohol.
“There are whole parts of that night that I just can’t account for. I blacked out. I had never blacked out, before or since then. But I blacked out and I was date-raped,” she said.
Weidhaas said that much later that night, she woke up, got dressed and left his apartment as quickly as she could. She returned to her parents’ home that night and even went to work the next day. She said she felt “terrible” and couldn’t piece together the night before, nor did she know what to do with the information she had.
“If I came forward and exposed this person, this ER doctor, who would believe me?” said Weidhaas.
But several years later, she did just that. She was in bed studying for an exam and just so happened to see a TV news story and the face of the man who assaulted her. He had been tried for date-raping three women, and he had been acquitted of all charges.
There was visible dismay in the crowd as she said this, with one audience member even outwardly exclaiming how upset he was.
However, that same newscast revealed that the man would be tried again after several other women stepped forward.
Weidhaas then knew she had to step forward. She reported her assault to a rape hotline and was quickly brought into the case after telling her story to law enforcement.
They then moved on to try the man for Weidhaas’s rape, as well as that of several other women. He was convicted on two counts of sexual assault, a lesser charge than rape.
The man was sentenced to 21 years in the state of Pennsylvania and Weidhaas says he is currently eligible for parole. She says she testifies at every parole hearing to “make sure he doesn’t get out.”
Junior psychology major Alexis Ward said, “This was an incredibly important event and I am so proud of Dr. Weidhaas for being brave enough to share her story in front of her students and peers. That is truly inspiring of her.”